Search engine optimization (SEO) enhances a website to better inform search engines of the content and purpose of the page. At a high level, SEO helps Google understand the purpose of a page and then serve that page to people searching for that information. By increasing the search engine results page (SERP), companies improve visibility to prospective customers.
Separately, an audit provides an independent examination of an entity. Generally, people think of a financial or tax audit, but SEO audits work the same way. In an SEO audit, an independent expert examines a website and provides a report of the findings.
Why SEO Audits Matter
SEO audits matter because they offer a key tool in improving visibility in search engines. For example, upon completing an SEO audit, digital marketers create a roadmap or plan to improve all facets of a site.
In addition to ultimately improving SERPs, SEO audits matter for few reasons:
Fix Critical Issues
It would be inaccurate to assume your site has no critical issues. Although things like utilizing a non-secure site are possible, this should have been caught. If not, stop right now and re-evaluate your development and/or marketing team. However, other critical issues related to duplicate pages, issues with the robots.txt file and identifying redirect chains may exist. For example, too often sites will render via www.site.com and site.com. Similarly, pages may render at site.com/page and site.com/pages/. In the SEO world, these are deemed “live” and search engines index all of these pages. The critical issue is the pages contain the exact same information (after all, most developers likely do not even realize the variations exist). This means that search engines will likely flag the site for duplicative content.
Identify Site Bloat
Another important component of an SEO audit is identifying site bloat. Over time, sites grow and page upon page is launched. Frequently, these one-off pages are meant for an event or limited time sale. However, the pages remain in the site index, so engines continue to attempt to crawl the entire site. This may lead to a plethora of orphan pages that are live and indexed, but visitors are not able to navigate to them. This is problematic and should be addressed. In particular, for e-commerce companies, they should not continue to index out-of-date SKUs. Fortunately, the fix for site bloat can be as simple as adding a noindex tag to pages or adding internal links to ensure visitors can find all pages.
Improve Site Structure
Site audits also identify errors. Done correctly, an SEO audit will capture any and all 404 errors, along with 300 code errors. As 404 errors show when a user visits a page, but that page no longer exists. These errors highlight pretty bad user-interface (UI) issues, which can frustrate customers and make it harder for search engines to crawl the site. Additionally, 300 errors highlight issues with internal or external links that reference incorrect versions of the underlying live page. In particular, to address site bloat, some may think it is ok to simply remove an unused page. In the SEO world, this is not advised because the live page may still be in the search index. As a result, all deleted pages must be 301 redirected to the next most relevant page (or home page). Frequently, a site audit will uncover 301 redirect chains or 302 redirects that do not align with best practices.
Add Relevant Keywords
Issues with site security, duplicative content and the site map are important and should be rectified sooner rather than later. However, site audits also highlight areas of concern like header tags, title tags and meta descriptions. These vary in importance, but are relatively easy and low hanging fruit to address. SEO encompasses everything that will help your site show up in a relevant search query. As a result, failing to optimize H1 tags (or not optimizing them correctly), title tags and meta descriptions is a missed opportunity. For example, how often do you visit a site and while your mouse hovers over the tab you see “Home”? Well, “Home” is the title tag and should include one of the most important keywords to your business.
Finally, SEO audits matter because the algorithms that drive search results are incredibly sophisticated. Although certain elements such as missing or under-optimized H1 tags seem unimportant, the totality of everything on a site makes a huge difference in rankings. More often than not, audits do not find fatal flaws, but do identify a plethora of items that will tighten and strengthen the SEO foundation of a website.
Common Misconception with SEO Audits
Audits are an important part of your SEO strategy. After all, if a site is not optimized properly, search engines will not deem it as important as others and possibly drop it in the SERPs. For businesses, this is very detrimental to their long term success. Unfortunately, there are a few misconceptions around SEO audits.
First, some feel that SEO audits are not needed. Site audits are like an oil change or annual HVAC inspection. They may not feel important, but they are! Frequently, a company or owner will think their site is rock solid because they have a good development team or read some digital marketing blogs. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Like an experienced mechanic, SEO experts have more professional tools and knowledge to identify potential issues. More importantly, experienced SEO teams provide a plan to implement the fixes.
Second, the misconception that SEO audits are all the same is false. On the other side of the equation are business owners that know SEO is important, but think everyone is the same. They might think, “why pay for an audit when I can run my site through some free SEO checker?” Well, as they say, you get what you pay for. Depending on the type of website and objectives, free SEO analyzers can certainly offer a high level examination. But, if you are an e-commerce company or content driven site, you need individual attention.
Third, some believe that an approach to SEO is to set it and forget it. Nothing can be further from the truth. SEO is a long game that constantly changes. As search engines (such as Google) constantly tweak the underlying algorithm that filters the internet and displays search results, SEO experts make corresponding adjustments. Fortunately, the core value proposition doesn’t change. Provide valuable content to your customers and Google will show your pages. However, there are thousands of ways to demonstrate to Google that your site offers value. SEO audits capture your site at a certain period and identify areas to improve.